Tao of Lucy:
50 Years of Laughter
By Sarah "Dixie" Feldman
© AP/Wide World
you ever noticed how certain TV series function as a common mythos
that helps us communicate universal and sometimes complex ideas? In
bars, at parties and around water-coolers across America, you can
often hear someone chirp: "Like that planet where Captain Kirk..."
or "Like that Twilight Zone where they're stuck in that diner
with the bobbing, fortune-telling devil head?"
Learn From Lucy
For millions of Americans, I Love Lucy is a Rosetta Stone offering
guidance and insights on a wealth of issues. A televisual I-Ching,
Lucy reruns speak to such timeless questions as "What if my
best friend is wearing an identical dress to mine on TV?" and "Is
my husband trying to kill me?" and "How do I meet William Holden?"
the popular imagination for half a century, I Love Lucy premiered
in 1951, and we haven't been loveless since. Presciently shot on film
rather than kinescope, I Love Lucy has stood the test of time,
and nearly 200 episodes have been rerun (and rerun, and rerun) all
over the globe. Starring Lucille Ball and real-life husband Desi Arnaz,
the serious ran under various guises until 1957, won several Emmys,
influenced situation comedies, and captured our hearts and imaginations
for decades to come.
of us who suckled on the tele-teat of Lucyism, there was a lot of
information and inspiration to be found on:
Image © Corbis
To many, I Love Lucy is the story of an enduring marital
relationship, one that is able to weather familiar domestic
dilemmas like money, mother-in-laws, jealousy, power struggles,
thwarted dreams and Tennessee Ernie Ford. An Everywoman, we
recognize Lucy's struggles as our own: trick your husband into
getting you a mink coat, make him pay you more compliments,
insinuate yourself into his film debut.
what Lucy wanted was to play a less passive role, to be more actor
than acted upon. She wanted attention — and what's wrong with that?
We all want it; Lucy was just very up-front and focused about getting
it. Not one to repress her insecurities, Lucy tackled them head-on,
and since her fears were our fears, we rejoiced in her flagrant disregard
for propriety in her quest for inclusion. For example, when Lucy wonders
whether her husband would be unfaithful, she eschews the obvious and
dons a black wig and tries to trick up and pick up Ricky with her
ersatz Gina Lola Bridgida disguise. When she fears Ricky's violent
reaction when he sees the bill for the couture Don Loper dress she's
mistakenly purchased, she completely sidesteps domestic battery by
getting herself so sunburned he'll refrain from laying his conga-pounding
hands upon her. That's ingenuity!
Image © AP/Wide World
Though some saw Lucy as a show about marriage, it was as much about
friendship. Lucy and Ethel are seminal TV female friends: close, conspiratorial,
competitive and creative. Together they paved the way for resourceful
duos like Laverne and Shirley, Roseanne and Jackie, Edina and Patsy,
and Will and Grace.
They did occasionally
undermine one another; there was a nasty election incident, not to
mention those competing diners, "Little Bit of Cuba" and "Big Hunk
of America." Mostly the girls were there for each other. Though in
real life Lucy had Vivian Vance contractually obligated to remain
on the zaftig side, this apparently never kept Vivian from
being friends with Lucy offscreen as well as on.
Where does one begin? Lucy's black cigarette pants with the ballerina
flats. Ethel's cute housedresses. Mrs. Ricardo's charming smock blouses
obscuring the unborn Little Ricky. Fred's pants — the belt line was
eerily close to his nipples! Ricky's cool two-tone short jackets and
his Cuban heels. (Seriously, check out Ricky's/Desi's shoes — there's
like a 3-inch lift!) Lucy and cohorts donned so many great outfits,
but standouts include:
all-time favorites: Lucy's Italian babe outfit (complete with black
poodle-cut wig) and Ethel's Eskimo/Japanese/Native American ensemble.
(Ethel's pastiche of a costume shop's wares, including geisha wig,
squash-blossom necklace and moccasins have Lucy exclaiming, "You look
like an ad for a trip around the world!")
The chic but faux Parisian couture burlaps and bucket outfits
• The alluring , back-firing "wicked city woman" dress meant to frighten
• The Marilyn getup Lucy wears in her swivel-hipped entrance for a
Hollywood talent scout
• Lucy's many gypsy outfits for grape-stomping, operettas and other
• Ethel's one-shoulder leopard skin gown and Lucy's sparkling halter,
worn after graduating from charm school
• Lucy's "cuffed dungarees topped with gingham and plaid shirts" look
Though destiny made her a housewife, sheer force of will made Lucy
Ricardo — at various times — a model, circus performer, movie star,
saxophonist, sculptor, ballerina, candy factory worker, and famously,
a TV pitchwoman. Undeterred by her complete lack of talent and experience,
Lucy's dogged pursuit of the show biz spotlight is an inspiration
to us all.
Stuck for ideas on what to do in other states and foreign lands? Let
Lucy be your guide! When in Hollywood, why not climb into a movie
star's yard for that extra special, one of a kind souvenir? When in
Gay Paree, be sure to check out the latest fashions — just be sure
you're not rooked into wearing a horse's feedbag. And when in London,
do meet the queen! (Don't forget to practice your curtsy!)
Zen of Zany
As you can see, I Love Lucy can function as a travel guide,
a marriage manual or a comprehensive fashion template for myriad activities,
including crawling out on a ledge dressed as Superman. So next time
you find yourself in a jam, look to the wit and wisdom of the Lucy
canon — and all will be revealed.
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2001 issue of ATOMIC